Indego Africa has built a business model with two viable sides. Design innovation, product development, and strategic partnerships benefit the women artisans they work with, as well as the markets they create for.
“In order to be a durable changemaker you have to own what you do. Put a community before yourself.”
Conor French’s energy radiates off his face when he talks, and through the phone line when explains what he does. As a young lawyer who quickly made the decision to pivot away from corporate law into social entrepreneurship, Conor is constantly reminded that he is something of a minority in his field: “Design-driven women’s empowerment in Africa isn’t exactly teeming with white males – especially fashion-challenged ones with a corporate law background.”
As CEO of Indego Africa, Conor spends a great deal of time in Rwanda, where his company partners with for-profit cooperatives of more than 400 women artisans. Indego exports, markets, and sells their jewelry, accessories, and home decor both online and to major retailers such as J.Crew and Nicole Miller through cutting-edge design collaborations. In an interesting business model, Indego Africa pools profits from sales with donations to fund training programs for the same women to learn about management, entrepreneurship, technology, and health.
Why Rwanda? Conor shares a little-known fact about a country, mostly known in the West for war atrocities: “There’s hardly any corruption," he says. “If you’re trying to be a thought leader and run an ethical organization, you can’t hand out bribes." Even with that challenge out of the way, the road to a functional, impactful company wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. During his very first stint in-country, Conor recalls he “saw up close just how difficult things can be.”
“You confront the daunting and often labyrinthine web of challenges facing an ambitious but young cross-border social enterprise and it takes tenacity and an unwavering conviction in your approach and why you are doing what you are doing to recast those challenges through the lenses of possibility and opportunity. For precisely those reasons, however, by the end of those first months in Rwanda, I knew that I would never give up."